Conducting research for his next book took on a whole new dimension for Chemainus’ Tom Masters.
A trip to England in April with son Arthur, who lives in Ottawa, not only helped him set the scene for The Colonial, it took him back to the historic market town of Godalming, Surrey, where he was born.
“I left at the age of one and I hadn’t been back,” Masters indicated.
One of the purposes of the trip was to visit Godalming that lies half way between London and Portsmouth.
Masters never knew his parents and was adopted by an aunt and her husband after he came to Canada. Most of the train stations in the region are very old and it was a highlight for him to pose for a picture in front of the Godalming station.
It’s in an area that today has some of the highest real estate prices in England and only a one-hour commute to London. Commuters leave their cars — Mercedes and Range Rovers abundant among them — parked on the street there as they head for jobs in Parliament or in the financial district.
“Godalming is a picture postcard town,” noted Masters of its many features.
He went into the local library and got a library card while he was there.
The connection with his past aside that made the trip especially memorable, Masters also had geographical accuracy on his mind during his travels to add the proper context to his book.
“I had written about three-quarters of it before the trip,” he pointed out.
After returning home, Masters said he planned to “rewrite some of the passages set in central London based on my more intimate knowledge of it now.”
His previous book, A Hard Place, was released in May of 2017. Masters then directed his attention to The Colonial.
“It’s set in the time of the First World War,” he noted. “I’ve been working on it for some time. I’m working on two others.”
The Colonial, Masters added, is the “story of a Canadian naval officer who goes to London at the time of the outbreak of the First World War because he wants to be part of it.”
The officer gets sidetracked with domestic intelligence work and becomes an observer of the First World War from the point of view of the British people. The Canadian navy scarcely existed in 1914, Masters pointed out, though many Canadians served in the Royal Navy during the war.
The framework for the book is the chronology of the war.
“My protagonist is there, he observes these events and he has access to naval reports and documents,” Masters explained. “He has a better idea what’s going on than most people.”
He utilized all available resources for his writing.
“I have bookcases full of material,” Masters conceded. “I have copies of logbooks of ships that are available in the archives in London.
“All that research focuses so much on central London where most of the story takes place.
“It’s all within blocks. I thought in all fairness to my readers the least I could do was go there and walk the walk — literally.”
It brought the perfect payoff for the book and in personal terms.
“My son and I traced the steps of my hero in the story,” Masters indicated. “I’d already written about all this using the resources of Google Earth and Street View.”
But going there and walking down Whitehall and standing in front of the Admiralty was priceless for Masters.
“This is one of the great centres of the world — even today,” he said.
His second chapter is even called The Capital of the World.
“In fact, in 1914, it was,” Masters noted. “I try to convey some of that, the historical reality of that time. It was quite different than what it is today.”
Godalming’s appeal went way beyond expectations for him, with the recorded history of the town going back to the Ninth Century.
The depth of the story’s entire package is quite remarkable and Masters hopes to attract a mainstream publisher.
“I read it to my writers’ group,” Masters said. “They kept saying this is the book you were meant to write. It’s a more ambitious book than anything I’ve written before.”
He hopes to have the book completed by the end of the year, “although it’ll take some time to edit or revise,” he conceded.
As an aside, Masters took along his Chemainus Health Care Auxiliary shopping bag from partner Sharon Stocco that’s been photographed in many interesting places around the world.
A return visit to his birthplace is more likely to happen sooner rather than later.
“I’d go back at the drop of a hat and I’d go back to the very same places,” Masters enthused.
“The place is so steeped in history, as far back as you want to go.”
Masters’ book A Hard Place is available at Rainforest Arts in Chemainus as well as through Amazon.